Macquarie University
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Just watching?: Spectators, politics and the theatre metaphor

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posted on 2022-03-28, 21:45 authored by Sandey Fitzgerald
The aim of this thesis is to bring spectatorship into view for political theory through a consideration of the theatre metaphor. The metaphor has a long history in relation to politics. This presents a contradiction for democratic political theory committed to turning so-called passive spectators into actors, for spectators as such are essential to the existence of theatre. -- The thesis explores this contradiction in two ways. Firstly, it pushes the metaphor by filling it out with theatre theory. Support for this move can be found in the work of Arendt, Rancière and Mount. When filled out in this way, the theatre metaphor offers a model of democratic politics that incorporates spectators in positive ways. However, this model is not participatory. Physical distance between actors and spectators is essential, not just because it provides the space in which politics becomes visible but because spectatorship itself is a mode of action that is constrained through conventions of distance. The physical distance between actors and spectators is not a void, but an agreed-upon and protective space. Freed from such agreement, spectators act as spectators, sometimes in harmful ways. -- Secondly, the thesis explores the way the theatre metaphor is used by powerful spectators who draw on the theatrical conventions of distancing to reduce those they observe to actors in a theatre. Metaphors themselves invoke spectatorship. They are a way of seeing one thing as if it was another. The theatre metaphor doubles this spectatorship in a way that allows its users to imagine themselves outside any affective relationship with those they observe. They are then able to judge or appropriate the beheld while avoiding or disabling accountability for the effects of their observations. This powerful form of spectatorship is apparent in the social and political sciences, and is crucially in need of an ethics.


Table of Contents

ch. 1: Introduction: just watching? -- ch. 2: Seeing politics through metaphor -- ch. 3: Seeing through the theatre metaphor: some preliminary concerns -- ch. 4: Seeing politics through the theatre/drama metaphor -- ch. 5: Theatre as a model for politics -- ch. 6: Politics as theatre -- ch. 7: Politics in the theatre/drama metaphor: more than meets the eye -- ch. 8: Coming to terms with distance -- ch. 9 Towards an ethics for political spectatorship -- ch. 10: Conclusion -- Bibliography -- App. A: Etymology - Theatre and related terms -- App. B: Summary tables -- App. C: The use of the theatre metaphor -- App. D: Theories of theatre -- App. E: Performance/Performativity tables -- App. F: Theatricality tables


Bibliography: pages 327-376 October 2011

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations

Department, Centre or School

Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Murray Goot


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Sandey Fitzgerald 2011.




1 online resource (xiv, 376 pages) illustrations, portraits

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